Spin Control

June 3, 2007


Glenn Mercer, "Wheels in Motion" (Pravda)

Critic's rating: 4 stars

Putting their own unique touch on the art-rock innovations of Brian Eno and the Velvet Underground, primarily in the form of those distinctive "crazy rhythms" that took the Bo Diddley beat into hyper drive, New Jersey cult legends the Feelies released four brilliant albums between 1980 and 1991, then disbanded in the face of commercial indifference just as the alternative explosion they helped inspire took hold. Their influence continues to loom large -- just listen to the rhythms of the Strokes and the Arcade Fire, to name two of many -- yet the key members have been missing in action for much of the new millennium.

Earlier this year, former Feelies bassist Brenda Sauter and her new band Wild Carnation released a strong album called "Superbus." Now, courtesy of Chicago indie label Pravda, we have the first solo offering from Feelies co-founder, lead guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter Glenn Mercer, who took a five-year break after releasing several strong discs with the more garage-oriented Wake Ooloo. During the intervening years, the frantic beats have slowed down a bit, but "Wheels in Motion" is as melodically infectious and hypnotically captivating as the Feelies at their very best.

Many of the old gang make appearances -- Sauter and drummers Stanley Demeski, Anton Fier, Vinny DeNunzio and Dave Weckerman all contribute; in fact, only Mercer's longtime guitar partner Bill Million is still missing -- but this is ultimately Mercer's show, and it illustrates what a major part he played in crafting the Feelies' aesthetic, from the more jagged and experimental tracks ("Whatever Happened" is as frenetic as anything on 1980's "Crazy Rhythms") to the lulling, jangly, "Good Earth"-style material (as on the title track and "Get It Back") to choosing the perfect cover song (here, it's a delightfully psychedelic merger of two of George Harrison's Indian-spiced Beatles classics, "Within You, Without You" and "Love You To").

Feelies fans will greet this album as manna from heaven, but this is not a case of an aging hero coasting on his laurels, and younger indie-rock devotees need never have heard of the band in order to be swept away by the album's powerful undertow.

Jim DeRogatis